What Are the Common Causes of Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can happen to anyone regardless of age. Different types of hearing loss have different causes depending on which part of the ear is not functioning properly. The causes of hearing loss will determine its duration (i.e. temporary or permanent).

Below are the common causes of hearing loss based on their duration: Continue reading “What Are the Common Causes of Hearing Loss?”

Hearing Test: Exam to See if You Suffer From Hearing Loss

There are several tests that determine whether a person has hearing loss. These tests also determine the configuration (i.e. unilateral or bilateral, low-frequency or high-frequency) and degree of hearing loss (i.e. mild, moderate, profound, severe).

Pure-Tone Testing

The most basic test is performed using an audiometer, which is used to determine the level of hearing a person has across frequencies.

If you suspect that you have hearing loss, it is best that you consult an audiologist so that you can undergo a proper hearing evaluation. Before administering the hearing test, your audiologist will first go through your hearing and medical history. Your audiologist will also have to check your ears for anything that may affect the results of the hearing test.

What to Expect During a Hearing Test

The method by which a hearing test is conducted depends on the age of the person. Adults normally go through a regular pure-tone hearing test setup where they wear headphones attached to an audiometer inside a soundproof booth. Headphones or earphones are necessary to be able to test each ear.

Sounds will be played at selected frequencies and you will be asked to respond in a certain way if you hear the sound. For instance, you may be asked to raise a finger, press a button, or respond by saying a word whenever you hear a sound. The results are presented through an audiogram; a graph that shows the type, configuration, and degree of hearing loss in cases where hearing loss is detected.

Younger kids, however, might refuse to wear headphones during a hearing test. In which case, the sounds will have to be played using speakers inside a soundproof booth. The challenge that this setup poses is that it is difficult to record the results for each ear so unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in one ear) might not be detected.

When conducting tests for kids as young as 2 to 5 years old, the audiologist typically uses play audiometry where the child being tested is asked to perform a series of activities when he hears a sound. Activities typically include using blocks, pegs, and rings to obtain a response from the child.

Other Types of Hearing Tests

Middle Ear Testing

In some cases, additional tests may be necessary to determine if the middle ear is functioning properly or if the problem lies in the middle ear. Tympanometry is a type of middle ear test where a small probe is placed inside the ear to push air pressure into the ear canal so the audiologist can see how the middle ear is functioning. Through this test, an audiologist can determine whether there are problems with how the eardrum moves or if there is a hole in the eardrum.

To determine the type of hearing loss, audiologists use acoustic reflex measures where a person’s acoustic reflex to loud sounds is observed. The type of hearing loss is determined by checking if an acoustic reflex occurs when a loud sound is played and how loud the sound has to be before the acoustic reflex occurs.

Auditory Brainstem Response Test

ABR tests the inner ear and the brain for possible causes of hearing problems in children and adults who cannot respond properly to regular hearing evaluations. It is also used in newborn hearing screening. Electrodes are placed on the head to record brain wave activity related to sounds.

Otoacoustic Emissions Test

This test is often used as a part of the newborn hearing screening, as it is able to determine whether there is blockage in the ear canal, damage to hair cells, or fluid in the middle ear. Everyone releases otoacoustic emissions (sounds produced by the inner ear as a response to external sounds). During an OAE test, the sound produced by the inner ear is recorded through the use of a small probe. People with hearing loss typically don’t produce these sounds.

During a basic hearing evaluation, people only undergo pure-tone hearing tests unless the audiologist recommends further testing to determine the degree and type of hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Symptoms: How to Tell if You Have Hearing Loss

Since hearing loss happens gradually in most cases, some people might not notice that they are having trouble hearing right away. Most of those who do start noticing that they have hearing loss may choose not to do anything about it. As a result, a lot of people with hearing loss don’t get the medical help they need. Some take as long as several years before deciding to get help. If you have been having trouble hearing properly or you know someone close to you who has hearing problems, it’s best to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

When your hearing loss progressively gets worse overtime instead of happening instantly, it’s easy to get used to your current level of hearing and not notice that you actually have hearing loss. Knowing the most common symptoms to watch out for can help with early detection and medical intervention.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

While there are different types of hearing loss, the symptoms are generally the same. Unless it is a case of sudden sensorineural hearing loss where the loss of hearing happens instantly, most hearing loss symptoms can happen gradually and not occur all at the same time.  Below are some of the most common symptoms of hearing loss:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

Tinnitus or ringing in the ears in the absence of actual sound is usually a precursor to hearing loss. A lot of people who develop hearing loss later report having experienced tinnitus in varying levels of intensity before they lose their hearing. While most people will experience tinnitus at some point or another, it is usually just brief and goes away on its own.

Tinnitus, however, is also one of the most common symptoms of hearing loss as it may indicate any of the following: ear infection, noise-induced hearing loss, presence of foreign objects in the ear or impacted ear wax, and Meniere’s disease. If you notice that you have been experiencing tinnitus a lot or that the sound in your ears is becoming worse overtime, it’s best to see an audiologist to get tested.

  • Dizziness and Loss of Balance
  • Difficulty following conversations especially when two or more people are talking.
  • When talking to someone, words may start to appear slurred or mumbled.
  • Difficulty hearing sounds that are coming from behind you.
  • Turning up the television or radio volume much louder than usual.
  • Difficulty hearing in noisy environments.
  • Difficulty hearing and focusing on higher-pitched sounds.

In some hearing loss cases, especially when it is sensorineural hearing loss, people have trouble hearing higher-pitched sounds compared to lower-pitched ones. As such, you might find it easier hearing a man’s voice over a woman’s voice and you might not be able to tell the difference whenever you hear higher pitched letter sounds like “s” or “th”.

  • Noticeable pressure in the ear.

This may indicate conductive hearing loss, as pressure is usually caused by fluid build-up.

  • Some sounds may appear too loud.

This is because loss of hearing can happen in different frequencies. For instance, those with low frequency hearing loss can hear higher pitched sounds better than lower pitched ones and vice versa.
A lot of older adults who lose their hearing often end up in denial so they might start blaming other people for not “speaking loud enough”. Since hearing loss is mostly gradual, friends and family members might notice the problem first before the person experiencing it does. People also end up in denial to themselves and to others because of the stigma surrounding hearing loss and being deaf. They might think that it’s better to just focus extra hard than to be called deaf or to have to wear hearing aids. Dealing with hearing loss can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing but with medical help and the right assistive technology, things can eventually get better.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Causes and Treatments

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that happens very quickly. SSHL happens almost instantly but it can also progress within a period of up to three days and in most cases, it only affects one ear.

People who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss may notice a popping sensation before their hearing disappears but others have also reported experiencing tinnitus (ringing in the ears) before they lose their hearing.

Is it Permanent?

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is usually not a permanent condition, as there is a good chance of recovery for most people who experience it. Some people who experience SSHL recover within a period of three days without medical help but others may require up to two weeks for recovery. Unfortunately, there are some people who never recover from SSHL. Recovery and treatment will depend on the diagnosis of your physician or audiologist.

How is SSHL diagnosed?

When checking for SSHL, doctors will examine your medical history and hearing history first. This is important so that any underlying causes can be ruled out. You will then be asked to take a hearing evaluation or a pure-tone hearing test to determine if there is a hearing loss. SSHL is diagnosed when there is a hearing loss of at least 30 decibels in three frequencies.

Causes of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

There are many factors that can cause sudden sensorineural hearing loss but in most cases, the exact cause is not identified. As such, SSHL is classified as an idiopathic condition (a condition with an unknown cause). Viral infections are presumed to be the cause of most SSHL cases, although doctors usually base their diagnosis on a patient’s medical history. Some of the most common causes of SSHL include:

  • Viral Infections
  • Illness or disease

Diseases that can cause SSHL include autoimmune disease, otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth that affects the middle ear), and HIV/AIDS, among others.

  • Head Trauma or Physical Injury

A person who experiences serious head trauma is susceptible to tinnitus and hearing loss. Head injury can damage either the ear directly or some parts of brain that process auditory information.

  • Ototoxic Medication and Chemicals

Some medications are ototoxic (toxic to the ear). There are over 200 types of medicines that are known to cause damage to the ear, including some over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs. While some hearing problems caused by ototoxicity usually go away when the medication is discontinued, there are some that may cause irreversible damage. Some of the most commonly used medications that are known to cause hearing loss include aspirin (in large doses), medication for heart disease like loop diuretics, some antibiotics, NSAIDs including ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as medicines used to treat serious infections and cancer.

  • Circulatory problems
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • One-time exposure to a very loud noise (e.g. gun shots, explosion)
  • Psychological factors (e.g. stress)

Treatments for Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Before a treatment plan can be prescribed, doctors will try to look at the underlying causes first. If a specific cause is identified, SSHL is addressed by treating the underlying cause (usually with antibiotics).

In cases where the hearing loss is caused by medication, doctors may simply advise the patient to discontinue its use.

In cases where no specific cause is found, the patient may be treated with steroids, particularly corticosteroids like cortisone, a hormone naturally released by the adrenaline gland as a response to stress. Cortisone is usually administered to treat inflammation and pain. It also helps patients with immune system problems.

Oxygen infusion or Carbogen (mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide) inhalation is also a common treatment, as it is also believed that SSHL can happen when the inner ear does not receive enough oxygen. Carbogen inhalation can help improve airflow and blood flow in the inner ear.

It is worth noting that not all patients respond to these treatments. Treatment becomes especially challenging when the exact cause is not known and in about 15% of cases, sudden sensorineural hearing loss leads to permanent and progressive loss of hearing.

If you suspect that you have SSHL, it is important to seek medical help right away. The faster you seek medical intervention, the higher the chances of recovery. You can go to your physician or straight to the emergency room for medical help.